laundry temperature: hot, warm, or cold?

Doing laundry can be anything but simple at times. Especially when it comes to the laundry temperature choice for the wash water.

If you've ever pulled a pink shirt out of the washing machine when a white one went in, or put on a fresh pair of jeans that are still sporting the signs of last week's lunch, you know that washing clothes can get complicated now and then.

So you're probably wondering: Why shouldn't I just choose cold water for everything to keep things simple? You shouldn't, because cold water won't remove many common stains, which will then be set into the clothing item. And your rag pile grows.

why all laundry shouldn't be washed in cold water.

Sure, the quickest way to do a load of whites, medium colors, and darks, is wash them all in cold water.

But the time you save in the short run may actually double the time you'll spend washing clothes in the long run.

That's because clothes that don't get clean need to be rewashed to get that stain out.

And stained clothes that aren't rewashed but end up in the dryer anyway will likely be unwearable, making this route a rather expensive and ineffective time saver. 

why the right laundry temperature is important.

Once a stain is set by the dryer's heat, there's often very little to be done.

That's because cold water isn't as effective at stain removal as warmer temperatures are and can leave clothes looking dingy and worn instead of bright and clean.

The correct wash water temperature directly affects the performance of your detergent, the wrinkling of fabrics (your clothes), and the lifespan of those clothes.

You'll be rewarded with a laundry basket of clothes that look cleaner and last longer.

1. when to choose hot for your laundry temperature.

Hot water is the best choice for white clothes, very dirty or greasy clothes, and sturdy fabrics that retain their dye.

You'll also want to choose hot water when you need some serious germ killing, such as on the bed sheets and pillowcase of a family member with the flu.

2. when to choose a warm water laundry temperature.

Warm water minimizes color fading and wrinkling, and does a good job in getting really grimy clothes clean. Choose it for light colors that won't run, regular and sturdy fabrics, towels, jeans, cottons, sheets, sturdy play wear, school uniforms, 100 percent manmade fibers, blends of natural and manmade fibers, and moderately soiled clothes.

3. when to choose a cold water laundry temperature.

Use cold water for dark or bright color clothes that may run or fade; and for delicate fabrics like washable silk, swimsuits, active wear, and lingerie. Washing clothes in cold water will also minimize the shrinking of washable woolens. It's also okay for lightly soiled clothes. 

Always use cold water for blood stain removal, red wine stain removal, and coffee spills. Warm water could set these stains.

Finally, if you're going to do a cold water wash, check first for stains and pretreat stained areas as needed; your washing detergent doesn't clean heavily soiled areas as well in cold water.

Consider adding a bit more washing detergent to cold water washes to get those really dirty dark or bright colors clean.

Or, if you do lots of cold water washes, consider using a washing detergent designed to work in all temperatures.

4. always chill on the rinse cycle.

For the rinse cycle, cold water is excellent for all types of of loads. So use it! Another benefit: A cold water rinse saves energy per load by up to one-third, and helps minimize wrinkling in synthetic and sturdier fabrics.

For more information on washing clothes so the don't shrink or fade, get the Guide to Laundry Care Symbols fact sheet from the American Cleaning Institute.

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About the Author

Tara Aronson is a native Californian. Having grown up in San Diego, she studied journalism and Spanish to pursue a career in newspaper writing. Tara, whose three children - Chris, Lyndsay, and Payne - are the light of her life, now lives and writes in Los Angeles. She also regularly appears on television news programs throughout the U.S.